AN “IMPECCABLY VULGAR” PLAY
Catalyst September Issue 2002
The French playwright Jean Genet penned “Saintete” in the 1950s and over the summer it made its way to New York as “Elle.” The play opened at an off-Broadway site for a short stint in July. “Elle” thrashes the papacy in particular and Catholicism in general.
William Donohue’s thoughts on the play were considered so jazzy that they were excerpted on “Page Six,” the celebrity page of the New York Post. Here is what he had to say:
“Jean Genet was a direct descendant of the Marquis de Sade. Which is to say he was a pedophile, homosexual, sado-masochist, pervert and prostitute. He was also a convicted felon. When not engaging in buggery, he was known to practice burglary. He also wrote plays and had sex with Sartre. This made him a hero in literary quarters. His latest admirer is Ben Brantley of the New York Times.
“Brantley calls the play ‘richly theatrical entertainment.’ His colleagues at the New York Post and the Daily News, Donald Lyons and Robert Dominguez, respectively, were not impressed. But Brantley was. What he likes about the play is that it is ‘an impeccably vulgar production’ that will force the ‘blasphemy police [to] bring out their brass knuckles.’
“Brantley’s half right. It is true that the Catholic League is the blasphemy police (he didn’t say we were but we know what he was thinking) and it is also true that we possess brass knuckles. But he’s wrong in assuming we will use them on this occasion. That’s because the play is not ‘impeccably vulgar’—it is merely vulgar.
“In short, when vulgar plays that attack Catholicism are deeply flawed productions—as is the case in ‘Elle’—we do not reach for our weaponry. Not even when the author of the play is a pedophile, homosexual, sado-masochist, pervert, prostitute and thief. Those may be truly stellar qualifications in the literary world, but they are not persuasive enough to clear the bar at the Catholic League. We have higher standards. We have to: We answer to a higher source.”